Economy Drive (Part Two)

In Part One, we looked at two of the old stagers from the Soviet era. Today, we consider two from the next generation. 

Skoda Favorit. (c) autoevolution.com

By the time the Škoda Estelle and Lada Riva were withdrawn from the market, their engineering was over thirty years out of date and both were hopelessly uncompetitive, selling only on their bargain prices. The countries of the Eastern Bloc realised that they needed to invest in new technologies and designs in order to produce vehicles that could credibly be sold in Western Europe. 1987 saw the first fruits of these efforts with the launch of the Škoda Favorit and Yugo Sana. Their fate, and the fate of the companies that manufactured that them however, could not have been more different.

The Škoda Favorit was bang up to date in conception and design. It was available in five-door hatchback and estate versions and had a transverse engined FWD mechanical layout. The OHV 1,289cc engine was lifted from the Estelle, but was mated to a new five-speed transaxle gearbox. Škoda commissioned carrozzeria Bertone for the exterior design and the result was a sharply styled and contemporary appearance, somewhat reminiscent of some other Bertone designs.

(c) skoda-storyboard.com

Autocar magazine tested a Favorit 136LX in November 1990. The reviewer found it to be a spritely performer. It achieved 0 to 60mph in 14.3 seconds and a top speed of 92mph. The engine power output was just 62bhp, but it was a responsive and eager unit, and its all-alloy construction contributed to the car’s low kerb weight of 840kg, good weight distribution, and light and accurate steering. The Favorit had a smooth and precise gearchange. It also rode and handled well, apart from occasionally inadequate damping.

The interior was smartly designed and contemporary in appearance, but the material finishes were cheap, the column stalks and switchgear felt insubstantial, and ventilation was inadequate. The front seats lacked lumbar support, but the rear bench was comfortable and interior space was good, as was the boot with its low loading sill.

(c) skoda-storyboard.com

The Favorit was well equipped with alloy wheels, a radio-cassette player, generous toolkit and a removable torch, and was a bargain at just £5,446.  At that time, the smaller three-door VW Polo range started at a list price of £6,500. In summary, Autocar concluded that the Favorit was a “comprehensively equipped… thoroughly engineered car with a pleasing, willing nature.

The Favorit sold well, finding 50,000 UK buyers between 1989 and 1995. Its significance was, however, very much greater in that it demonstrated Škoda’s engineering capabilities and was sufficiently accomplished to convince VW to invest in the company at the invitation of the Czech government. The VW Group took an initial 30% stake in April 1991 and increased its shareholding gradually until Škoda became a wholly owned subsidiary in 2000.

(c) skoda-storyboard.com

VW regarded the Favorit highly enough to update it with fuel injection and cosmetic improvements before replacing it in 1994 with the Felicia, which was essentially a reskinned Favorit with more VW sourced hardware. In 1996 Škoda launched its first all-new model under VW ownership, the Octavia, and the company’s reputation and profitability has flourished ever since. It is reputed to be the most profitable of all VW’s mass-market brands, second only to Porsche within the group’s portfolio.

1987 Yugo Sana / Florida / Miami. Image: our classic cars

The Yugo Sana was manufactured by the Yugoslavian state-owned Zastava industrial conglomerate, previously known for manufacturing a five-door hatchback version of the 1969 Fiat 128 and a smaller, three-door hatchback, the Yugo 45, which used a shortened version of the 128 floorpan. The Sana was sold in its home market as the Zastava Florida and in other markets as the Yugo Florida and Yugo Miami.

Launched in 1987, it was a five-door transverse-engined FWD hatchback with a smooth and contemporary body styled by Giugiaro’s Italdesign. Mechanically, the Sana relied heavily on componentry from Fiat and was powered by the 1.4 litre engine from the Tipo. Autocar tested the Sana in 1990 and found it to be a lively performer, with a 0 to 60mph time of 13.2 seconds and a top speed of 97mph. The reviewer was, however, disappointed by how thrashy and gruff the 70bhp Tipo engine sounded in this installation.

(c) favcars

The Sana’s steering was heavy when manoeuvring, and dead and unresponsive at higher speeds. The car suffered from heavy understeer and behaved like an earlier generation of FWD cars. The ride quality was also poor: it was bouncy and restless with inadequate damping. Moreover, the gearchange was mounted too far forward and had a long throw and poorly defined gate.

The Sana tried to redeem itself with a superficially luxurious interior, reminiscent of contemporary Fiats with soft velour upholstery and supportive front seats. The rear bench was rather more thinly padded, although it did have a centre armrest. Closer inspection, however, revealed poor quality rippled trim mouldings. On the move, there was a persistent scuttle-shake and plenty of squeaks and rattles. The standard of assembly was poor and the car appeared to be “lashed together against the clock”.

Overall, Autocar was unimpressed by the Sana, even considering its bargain price of £5,495. The reviewer described it as “flimsy and shoddily put together” and felt that it needed “a comprehensive ride and handling development programme”.

(c) freeweb.deltha.hu

The Sana fell a long way behind the Favorit, but its fate was sealed, not by its inadequacies, but by the outbreak of the Balkan War in 1991. This vicious, decade-long struggle tore Yugoslavia apart when old ethnic and religious hatreds exploded following the disintegration of the Soviet Union during 1990 and 1991.

UN trade sanctions were imposed in 1992 in response to the atrocities committed in the war. This affected Zastava’s ability to import parts and export the Sana. Further EU and US sanctions would follow later in the decade, and production limped along intermittently throughout the 1990’s. The factory complex was bombed by NATO forces in 1999 because a Zastava division was also manufacturing and supplying arms to the Serbian government.

(c) favcars

Production of the Sana finally ground to a halt in 2008. Over its twenty-year lifespan, fewer than 30,000 cars had been produced and it would be the last passenger car produced by the company. The Florida was also manufactured in Egypt between 2001 and 2009 under licence in small numbers by El Nasr, the country’s state-owned automobile manufacturer

Škoda is now very much in the mainstream of European automotive manufacturing, while Zastava’s commercial and military truck division was declared bankrupt in May 2017. Zastava continues to manufacture light arms in Serbia for military and sporting uses.

The variety of Eastern Bloc cars available to European buyers certainly added some variety to the motoring landscape, but I doubt many would mourn their passing today, except perhaps as curios of their time.

Author: Daniel O'Callaghan

Shut-line obsessive...Hates rudeness, loves biscuits.

20 thoughts on “Economy Drive (Part Two)”

  1. Yugoslavia was a non-aligned state and never was part of the Easter Bloc or subject to Soviet industrial policy. Zastava’s disappearance was a result of the war and division of what was known as Yugoslavia which left Zastava without a market.
    Nobody living in other ex-Yugoslavian part states would buy a product made in Serbia, Serbia itself is too small and too poor and for an export-only strategy the cars were not good enoough.

    1. Good morning Dave. Thank you for the additional background information. I didn’t (mean to) imply that Yugoslavia was part of the Eastern Bloc, but Moscow still exerted considerable influence in the country via the League of Communists in Yugoslavia, the national ruling party.

      One of the factors that suppressed ethnic tensions in the country was the perceived threat of invasion from a Soviet ‘peacekeeping’ force in the event of a breakout of hostilities. It’s a moot point as to whether or when Yugoslavia would have disintegrated violently had the Soviet Union remained intact, but the timing of both events is hardly coincidental. In any event, I’ve amended the text to remove any ambiguity.

  2. The Favorit is a typical Bertone design, and the coupé prototype they came up with even more so:

    1987 Škoda Favorit Coupé Prototype

    Škoda also produced a dull-looking saloon version, but decided not to go ahead with it.

    I thought the Favorit was an interesting design – I just wish they had had the resources to do a better interior.

    1. Good morning Charles. Yes, the Favorit was very typically Bertone. I do recall reading somewhere that, late in its development process, there were misgivings at Škoda about its extreme angularity, but the headlamps had already been ordered from an outside supplier , so they decided to stick with the design!

      That (possibly apocryphal) story puts me in mind of a Fawlty Towers episode where one of the two old ladies ordered ‘fresh fruit salad’ for dessert, then tried to change her mind. The fearsome Sybil rebuffed her request by stating “It’s a bit tricky, chef’s already opened the tin.”

      The Felicia was a workmanlike update on the Favorit’s underpinnings, if tending towards blandness:

    2. Regarding the Favorit saloon prototype, I rather liked it and thought the longer rear overhang balanced up the front end rather well:

      I’m surprised that Škoda didn’t go ahead with it, given the healthy market for small saloons in Europe.

    3. Hello Daniel – yes, that’s a good point – especially in Southern Europe. I don’t know what their dealer coverage was like, though.

      I’d completely forgotten (or didn’t realise) that there was an estate variant. I knew there was also a pick-up, but I’ve only ever seen that version outside the UK.

  3. A new Rolls-Royce and a new S-Class this week…. where is the commentary on the news?!

    Apologies that this is not Skoda-related, but itching to hear the DTW-perspective on these gargantuan arrivals.

    1. Our esteemed editor is already on the case, Martin. DTW may not be first with the news, but Eóin’s piece won’t be just a rehash of the companies’ press releases either. Stay tuned!

  4. It must be pushing thirty years ago now when a then work colleague treat himself to a brand new Sana – in Beige. As is the way with memories, the exactness isn’t there but most things seemed to either break, fall off or stop working. The usual excuse for turning up late for work were always car related or visiting the garage; ownership lasted around six months before he chopped The Sana in for…a beige Fiat 127. For obvious reasons he was seriously known as Kevin The Beige, or Beige for short! What I distinctly remember is Kevin the Beige was showing his new steed in the car park to a few of us which left me not only nonplussed but more nauseous at how much he’d paid for a new car this poor.
    The Favorit retains something of a cult following in the U.K. and I’ve never seen the Felicia Coupé before – I can see hints of Citroën XM, in miniature. B+ for effort.

    1. Hello Andrew. “Kevin the Beige”. Ouch! That’s cruel, but undoubtedly true. We’ve all worked with such people: perfectly inoffensive, but you wouldn’t want to get stuck alone in their company for too long. I have one such acquaintance who drones on endlessly about how cheap his house insurance is on almost every occasion we meet.

      The psychology of colour choices on cars is a fascinating subject. Over the years I’ve been subjected to the Myers-Briggs test for personality types on numerous occasions and my strongest indicator by far is towards introversion, yet I drive a bright red sports car. Likewise, my partner, who drives a bright orange Mini.

      I’ve always assumed that beige was chosen as the ultimate non-colour by people who wanted to go completely unnoticed. However, it’s metallic first cousin, often called ‘sand’, ‘champagne’ or somesuch, can look very distinguished and attractive on the right car:

  5. The Favorit’s styling is very underrated. It is one of the bravest,
    most ‘iconoclastic’ designs that ever made it to the usually
    play-it-safe B-segment. It includes more than just
    hints of the Gandini-influenced ’70s Supercar-era.

    To illustrate just how radical and visually self-confident it is, I invite you to take a good long look at this first-gen Favorit door card:

    The entire car is just very well proportioned and drafted, which is not
    an easy feat when so many straight edges and geometrically pure angles
    are present. It is almost a masterpiece, and it even retains that Bertone trait of managing to ‘tame’ overhangs of disproportionate length, and turn them into a strong visual attribute. As time passes by, it becomes more and more relevant.

    I would locate its only visual weakness in the lack of convergence
    of the bonnet’s lateral edges. It makes it rather ‘straight-laced’, yet somewhat eccentric. It is perhaps an ‘oversighted step’ which took
    it all a tad too far. If the front wings & bonnet were at least slightly convergent, it would look properly dynamic, in the most
    Gandini-esque way.

    As for the Sana/Florida, I find it to be way more ‘sanitized’ as a design, even on the verge on being conservative. If it wasn’t for the distinctive ‘PRN’/Satellite commands on the dash, and that kinky (and admittedly, also rather Citroenic-looking) rear wheelarch / rear doorskin
    trailing edge ‘chicane’, it would be borderline anonymous.
    Its headlights & hood (the front end, generally), is, however, admirable in that it radiates a certain cohesiveness (it’s almost a sympathetic facial expression, that still manages to somehow remain ‘straight-faced’ – they striked a good balance there).

    Al Pinaweiss

    1. Hi Al. That door card really is distinctive. The armrest, door handle and window winder all look interesting and they fit in well with the angularity of the interior design, especially the dashboard. I guess it’s unusual for an external designer’s proposal to get through to production with so little interference from the manufacturer, either to ‘tone it down’ or make it cheaper to build, so bravo Škoda. It’s a shame their current designs are so safe and ‘corporate’.

      The Sana puts me in mind of the Citröen ZX, but it also shares the 1988 Fiat Tipo’ s ‘industrial design’ aesthetic. Shame it was so badly built.

  6. A used Skoda Favorit (series 1) was my first drive. It was 10 years old and worn out before I bought it and that combined with my young age, my very limited economical resources and lack of any experience in maintaining a car did it no favours. However I have to admit it never failed me. Despite having numerous issues (me and my friends had a series of anectodes resulting from the vehicle’s various small problems from the detachable gearknob to the horn activated every time one turned to the left). it proved very reliable. I sold it to an family friend who actually drove it for at least 4-5 years more after that.
    The styling was pleasant, the interior was actually quite roomy and the engine/gearbox were dull but solid. Some higher-quality materials and finish and it would have been a serious contender to the golf-group of cars. It has been many years since I last saw one on the road.

  7. There’s an immaculate Favorit around these parts and every time I happen upon it I am reminded how much I like that sharp-edged design, which has aged very well indeed. The re-skinned Felicia may have been a better car to drive and own (as I vaguely recall contemporary commentary indicating) but the bland, rounded-off styling was a real disappointment after its predecessor.

  8. The Yugo Sana’s exterior reminds me of a very cheap looking Citroen ZX.

    Have a high regard for the Favorit and Felicia (preferring the latter more), one wonders how competitive it would have been against Western Bloc rivals had it appeared earlier or even had Czechia remained part of the West or neutral instead of part of the Eastern Bloc (thereby allowing the experimental OHC engines to reach production).

    The few things the Favorit needed were an automatic gearbox as well as a suitable 1.6 petrol and a diesel/turbodiesel engine, the same with regards to the Felicia (despite the latter receiving rather underpowered NA diesel and 1.6 petrol engines).

    1. I recently had an opportunity to briefly drive a Felicia 1.6 (the very simple, venerable VW 8V OHC engine),
      and was blown away at how sprightly and lively it drove.
      The torquey, beefy power delivery of the 8v, combined with the contained weight and its (properly unexpected) short final-drive ratio, made for a hilarious, almost hot-hatch progress.

      Its handling was appaling, though, totally incompetent, nose-heavy and obviously under-engineered for the torque steer the VAG drivetrain nonchalantly produced.

      I actually struggled to remember a car with worse road manners.

      The Favorits, I remember, were much cleaner in their steering & way less reluctant to change direction.

      But, oh, what fun the 1.6 Felicia was in a straight line…

  9. The Fiat Tipo-based Yugo Sana also brings to mind a Fiat Ritmo-based Polish built prototype (with IMO better styling at the front then the original Series 1 Ritmo) known as the 1982 FSO Pimot Analog 1.2 or some other variation, which was apparently intended as a more modern replacement for the aging Polski Fiat 125p that was still being produced alongside the FSO Polonez and considered as a possible alternative to the FSO Wars project.


    https://www.wykop.pl/wpis/45774881/sonda-z-ritmo-czyli-fso-analog-1-2-popularny-duzy-/
    https://www.wykop.pl/wpis/45774881/sonda-z-ritmo-czyli-fso-analog-1-2-popularny-duzy-/

    Found a few (albeit Polish language) links regarding the Ritmo-based Analog 1.2.
    https://pl.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Analog_1,2
    https://www.wykop.pl/wpis/45774881/sonda-z-ritmo-czyli-fso-analog-1-2-popularny-duzy-/
    https://pl.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/FSO_Wars

  10. We had a SKODA FELICIA as a family car for 14 years. Bought in 1995, still with the 1.3 favorit’s carburated engine -the cheap choise.
    The gearbox was very clean and crisp. No compare with VW POLO’s notchy sticky thing, not mensioning the price difference. All the family decided it was a rather more noisy but surely better drive so we bought it straight away.
    Corrosion free, had an extremely light construction but with thick metal panels. It made as all greatly respect the chech engineers, especially after a very severe rear collision accident.
    I temember driving it in town with only 2 gears. 2nd and 4th, or 1st and 3rd, sometimes 1st and 4th only. No problem! It wouldn’t stall.
    Of course the engine failed so often…always a -not- running joke. Head gaskets were NOTORIUS for burning out. Were changed 3 times.
    Every other componet failed too. But they were so cheap and easy to replace…I think the eastern’s block mentality was different than the west’s. Cheap made, easy to replace, not made to last.
    A secret about the favorit and the felicia was its cabin size. Bigger than an UNO, smaller than TIPO. Bigger than POLO, smaller than GOLF. It made an excellent choise for a city car. And the seats were confy. An enlish reporter drove one from London to Praque a few yaers ago. He was pleasantly surprised by the old school seat confort, well…atleast when cruising and not cornering!
    Thanks Daniel for a nice article!

    1. You’re welcome, Constantinos, and thank you for sharing your experience with the Felicia.

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